A Map Of Southwark Place Name Origins

By M@ Last edited 6 months ago

Last Updated 22 January 2024

A Map Of Southwark Place Name Origins

If you like maps and history, then you'll love Londonist: Time Machine, our weekly newsletter about the city's past.

A map of etymology in Southwark
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More than 1,000 years ago Walworth was home to a farmstead of native Brits. These were people of Celtic heritage, whose culture had gradually eroded under first Roman then Anglo-Saxon domination. But here, a mile south of the Thames, a small farmstead apparently lingered on. Or so we might infer from the place name, for Walworth means "farm of the Britons" in Old English.

Etymology can often give fascinating insights into familiar places. The '-ey' in Bermondsey implies an island, or bit of land raised above the marshy surroundings. Tooley Street is a shortened version of St Olave's Street, namechecking a church that once stood here. Dulwich probably means 'dill meadow'.

In the first of a new series, we'll be exploring the etymology of each London borough. We're starting with Southwark because it was the very first London borough — a southern settlement outside the Roman city. Indeed, the northern part is still referred to as Borough, or The Borough to this day, cemented by a tube station, famous market and High Street of that name.

We've picked out all the major place names in the borough, and then filled in the gaps with etymologically interesting streets, parks and even pubs. Obviously, we can't include everything in a graphic like this, but do shout in the comments if you think we've missed a particularly intriguing location. We can always publish a version 2.0.

A note on sources

Etymology is fraught with difficulty, given the patchiness of sources from the early-to-mid medieval period from which most London place names stem. Some of the derivations in the map are best-guesses by experts rather than definitive. We used a variety of sources to compile the map, but found the English Society of Place Names site to be particularly helpful, and the nearest we have to an authority. The Dulwich Society's website also has some very helpful pages on local street name etymology.